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Detailing Being Green So Your Commercial Car Wash Shines

August 6, 2018  - Industry NewsCar Wash
Image of silver car going through automatic car wash

Fewer and fewer of us nowadays are enjoying the experience of washing our car in our own driveway on a Saturday morning. It was a first car owner's ritual; soaping up the car with a big sponge and rinsing it off with the garden hose. Before we all assume it's the youth of today not wanting to put in a little hard work and elbow grease, we should realize . . . that's only part of the problem. The main issue is the waste water run-off from these seemingly harmless chores. That sudsy water running off your driveway into the street is called nonpoint runoff and it is the leading cause of fresh water nonpoint source (NPS) pollution in the United States. And, it is causing many states and communities to ban the once typical suburban activity.

The issue is NPS works its way into the street and storm drains and finds its way into fresh water supplies – ultimately impacting the ecosystem for fish and other water inhabitants with chemicals or small metal particles that wash off cars, such as brake dust.

This isn't news to the commercial car wash industry. They have been working to be environmentally friendly for many years. There are several types of car washes—Tunnel Wash Systems, Automatic In-Bay Wash Systems, and Self-Service Systems—each carrying a different environmental impact not just because of the amount of water used, but the way water is handled after detergents and chemicals are added.

The industry is very focused on EPA regulations and finding new ways to handle recycled water for maximum impact while still being cost conscious. Waste water is a major and growing worry for commercial car wash operators. For instance, according to Earth911:

diagram showing how many gallons of water are utilized for each type of car wash scenario data from Earth911

With regulations from the EPA, communities imposing greater controls and increasing fees on water and sewer to cover their own costs and environmental awareness causing concern from operators and car owners alike—margins are being squeezed like a big microfiber wash sponge.

Solutions are being sought. Water recycling and water reclamation processes have been around for a long time but are gaining more traction in an era of conservation. And, given under the Clean Water Act, the EPA has very strict guidelines for many commercial businesses, including car washes it's not only the right thing to do, it's the necessary thing to do.

Most water reclaim or filtration systems provide some combination of the following methods: settling tanks, oxidation, filtration, flocculation and/or ozone. The following are general tips from Simoniz for water reuse systems:

  • Tunnel Wash Systems can use either a single unit, which reuses all water for the wash and fresh water for final rinse to avoid the odor associated with reused water, or double reclaim unit which reuses wash water while the second unit is dedicated to rinse water. The car wash conveyor will contain a dam, which will separate the two types of water.
  • Automatic In-Bay Systems will utilize a closed loop environment – using reclaimed water for all wash functions except the last pass which will be fresh water.
  • Self-Service System is a bit more demanding due to the nature of less control over the use. It requires equipment modification such as nozzle changes to reduce water volume and the installation of a bypass circuit for the fresh-water rinse.
Image of the exterior front face of a commercial car wash business

Going Green While Saving Green

There other ways car washes can help the environment while reducing operating expenses. The car wash industry has been making great strides in implementing technology to help drive efficiencies, reduce chemicals and keep your cars and trucks shining bright.

  • Mobile payment portals or payment kiosks: People love the convenience of mobile apps from the safety of your car. According to an article from Kesseltronics, a mobile carwash app uses a process known as “tokenization” to control how the payment information is used to purchase washes at a particular time and location. There are also additional benefits for the operator to improve the customer experience such as mobile instructions for the car wash, marketing opportunities during the wait, and cross-branding or cross selling opportunities.
  • Car wash software: In the past, the car wash was a heavy cash business and the number of options for customers revolved around under carriage sprays and wax or no wax at the end of the wash cycle. Times have changed and, as options increase, back office efficiencies are required to run a cost-effective organization. Software for managing inventories, scheduling staff and meetings and running reports make business oversight for operators more manageable.
  • Product choices: Car wash soaps, including liquid soap, foams and gel-based options, have had technological advancements over the years. Expectations, according to Future Market Insights, call for continued growth in the car wash soap and detergent market due to new products, the implementation of new methods like power washing, water reclaim and filtration systems and increased car wash use. Making changes to be green and conserve—like foam to bubbles which uses less water or implementing different chemicals in current system—are all areas to consider investing.

As with anything else, upgrading your business takes an investment. Operators that can't comply with regulations such as limits on water instead find themselves limiting hours of operation which does not help a business succeed. By investing to keep current with changes in EPA regulations and municipal restrictions or investing in their car wash to implement new technology, software or more environmentally friendly soap options, operators find they can meet the strict criteria and still increase their bottom line. According to Professional Carwashing & Detailing Magazine, car wash operators faced with growing water and sewer bills could see a cost savings of anywhere from $8,000 to over $20,000 per year in water and sewer costs by implementing water reclamation.


Ascentium Capital helps car wash operators and other small to medium sized business owners finance their green initiatives with fast, flexible financing programs that can be customized to suit your company's unique needs.

Click to watch a quick video and hear what Robert Powell, owner of Tower Car Wash & Detail Center, had to say about his experience using Ascentium Capital's car wash equipment financing.

Contact us to learn more and request a no-obligation quote today!

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